Interview: Al Jaffee [unabridged]

By DAN MAZUR  |  November 18, 2010

Russ Westover did Tillie the Toiler. Cliff Sterrett did Polly and Her Pals. Cliff Sterrett. Tillie the Toiler I wasn't so crazy about. Stenography wasn't something I understood. But Cliff Sterrett — Polly and Her Pals again connects in my view to McManus in that it was a design sensation in my mind I mean he would have backgrounds with trees that were so imaginary — and the action of his cat, I loved the animation of that cat that he palled around with. You know, it was funny stuff but his design quality was — to a kid — I mean, I'm surprised now that I remember something like that, because how would a 10-year-old, 12-year-old kid be taken in by design? But you check out his stuff and you'll see wonderful design. Flowerpots with strange flowers that are just beautiful. These are a throwaways, it's just, you know, they're furniture. So he was wonderful.

Then there was another one that fascinated me, which was [Harry J. Tuthill's] The Bungle Family. The Bungle Family fascinated me because he also was breaking another wall. He had something trapped in a wall that he talked to and y'know, I guess these thing stimulated my imagination. The notion that you could have a cartoon character standing there — and you could easily have another one standing there and the two talking — but you decide that you're going to trap something in the wall and its just going to be a voice. You never saw what was behind that wall. I don't know, maybe someone was bricked in there. So that stuck with me. And of course he had a lot of very funny incident things, like making a mistake when coal is going to be delivered to the house and instead of having them put it through this window which goes into the coal bin, it goes in this window, which goes to the sofa or something, and having a battle with his wife.

Of course to a little kid, making that kind of error is funny. And they had run-ins with their neighbors — this guy Bungle he would bungle everything and he would make mistakes that resulted in chaotic developments where all the neighbors arrive on the same day and that sort of thing . Chaos. And I enjoyed that.

Well of course, then later on what came, I mentioned Buck Rogers, I liked that. When Mandrake the Magician arrived, I liked that. You can see my pattern, and my pattern isn't unique. I mean, this is why these comics were so popular , they were breaking into imaginary worlds that took us out of the Depression era humdrum bleakness of life. And here was a magician who could do things that the rest of us only wished we could. Also Tarzan. Tarzan was wonderfully drawn. I later met and had a nice association with one of the artists on Tarzan, Burne Hogarth, and also [Tarzan creator] Hal] Foster, I met him. But those were really wonderful pieces of work. Alex Raymond I only met briefly because he got killed about a week after I first met him. And he did Flash Gordon, which was beautifully done. And later on, Walt Kelly of course, also triggered the imagination. Pogo was so delightful. Crockett Johnson was also wonderful. And, uh, the fellow who created Plastic Man, [Jack] Cole. Who Hefner swiped. Yeah, Cole did a lovely comic called Betsy and Me, which was beautifully written.

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